As retailers stock up for the winter holidays, Import cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports is expected to hit its highest level in nearly a year this month, according to the Global Port Tracker report released on August 7 by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“Port and package-delivery labor negotiations that threatened the supply chain at the beginning of the summer have been resolved and retailers are now focused on preparing for the all-important holiday season,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement.
“There are always supply challenges to be faced but holiday merchandise is flowing into the country, and we expect to see a smooth shipping season ahead of the winter holiday shopping season," Gold added.
Labor and management at West Coast ports reached a tentative contract agreement in June, a 13-day port strike in western Canada that affected some U.S. retailers last month ended with a tentative agreement, and United Parcel Service and the Teamsters agreed on a tentative contract that avoided a potential August 1 strike. The Canadian labor agreement was ratified Friday, but the others are still going through their ratification processes.
Double-digit year-over-year decreases in cargo volume this year have come even though consumer spending and U.S. employment have increased. “Dollar figures for international trade show imports remain in a year-over-year decline and cargo volume shows the same,” said Ben Hackett in a statement. "The discrepancy between rising growth in sales and declining cargo volumes is happening because retailers are working their way through inventory built up over the last 12 to 18 months. Cargo growth should resume as inventories are depleted.”
U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.83 million TEU in June, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 5.2% from May and down 18.7% year over year.
That brought the first half of 2023 to 10.5 million TEU, down 22% from the first half of 2022.
Volume projections for upcoming months include:
- July --1.91 million TEU, down 12.7% year over year
- August is forecast at 2.03 million TEU, down 10.2% year over year but the first month since last October to reach 2 million TEU.
- September-- i1.97 million TEU, down 3%
- October -1.99 million TEU, down 1%
- November --.92 million TEU, up 8% for the first year-over-year increase since June 2022
- December --.92 million TEU, up 10.7% year over year.
Those numbers would bring 2023 to 22.3 million TEU, down 12.8% from last year. Imports for all of 2022 totaled 25.5 million TEU, down 1.2% from the annual record of 25.8 million TEU set in 2021.